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It’s pretty common for me to review albums from bands and artists who are just starting out and perhaps not very well known. It goes without saying that this is not the case with Charlie Parr. In the last decade it’s been fairly rare to see a Parr show that isn’t pretty packed around the area. I remember seeing Parr about a decade ago and was astonished by both the audience response and the amount of sound one guy with a 12-string guitar could deliver.
Parr often plays solo or with a percussionist, but with his new album, “Stumpjumper,” he brings in a few other musicians including Phil Cook (short piano, steel guitar, banjo and electric guitar); Ryan Gustafson (electric bass, fiddle and banjo); James Wallace (drums and piano); and Emily Parr on vocals harmonies. Despite this addition of musicians, Parr stays true to his sound throughout this album and anyone who has been into his music in the past should have no problem with grasping this new material.
Parr is undeniably real with his music and it’s fair to say that his music reflects who he is. This can be said for a lot of musicians, that their music reflects who they are, but Parr stands out. He started out as a child as a self taught guitar player, he dropped out of high school and started working at a gas station. Typically, these things wouldn’t be viewed as a likely recipe for success in our society, but Parr pulled it off. While he does play in Duluth quite a bit, he spends about half his time touring throughout the country in an gas saving KIA and cooks his meals using the heat of the engine. He has also toured internationally playing gigs in Australia and parts of Europe. I’ve been told that his releases from Chaperone Records are sometimes ordered overseas.
Parr plays Americana music with a strong feel of older blues and in a sense, he himself brings out the feeling of true Americana. This album was recorded in a barn at the “Down Yonder Farm” in Hillsborough, NC, that just pulls together Parr’s style and his approach on not just this album, but much of his music.
While Parr’s trademark sound of the twang of his resonator guitar down to his soulful yet earthy vocals stays true, there is some range in the material. Songs like “Empty Out Your Pockets” brings out a steady foot stomping sound with nice work from the fiddle to the flare of some dirty electric guitar. “When Jesus gets here, he’ll burn that whole town down,” sings Parr. There a few religious references on the album, but isn’t preachy, it fits Parr’s Americana style.
While there are certainly some lively songs on this album, I personally enjoyed the track “Resurrection” with it’s calm, droning and somewhat haunting delivery. Again there are some biblical references with the song being about Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead. The swirling fiddles in the back that occasionally scratch a little along with Emily Parr’s backing vocals add some great depth to this somber and chilling song. The title track “Stumpjumper” is one of the most hard driving songs on this well done album. Parr’s demeanor is pretty laid back both in person and on stage, but he goes all out on the track.
Anyone who has been to a Parr show knows that his music will get people up and dancing. With each album Parr has put out, he makes the genre his own and in a sense he can be considered a master of doing just that. This humble and talented musician lives the music he plays and reflects this area with it. The track “Temperance River Blues” is a good example of that. Even the cover gives the feeling that Parr is connected to this area with his bare feet digging into the dirt and leaves in a wooded area.
This new album has been out for a little while, but Parr will be having a CD release show at The Red Herring Lounge on Wednesday, May 27. Stop in and check out the material from this Northland legend.